“I stopped going to school four months before graduation because I couldn’t handle the bullying anymore. I will not get to attend my senior prom, and…throw my graduation cap in the air.”
Harassment and bullying in schools are widely understood to be pervasive nationwide problems. But as the above quote from an LGBT student highlights, for LGBT young people the situation can be especially severe. Yesterday the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in public schools, was both reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and included in Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) proposed education bill updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Studies show that this kind of legislation is sorely needed. The most recent Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey found that in the past year alone, more than eight in ten LGBT students had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and more than six in ten because of their gender expression. The majority of students who were harassed did not report it to school staff, believing that nothing would happen if they did – or that the situation could get even worse.
As one student shared,
“Bullying in our school is mostly verbal, but it hurts just as much as any physical pain… Teachers rarely do anything about it.”
Those who were harassed frequently had lower GPAs and were less likely to say they planned to go on to college or other post-secondary education. Many LGBT students reported missing class because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, with nearly one in three LGBT students missing at least one full school day in the past month.
When harassment at school is associated with missed classes, lowered grades, shifted educational ambitions, or even depression, it can have long term implications for the wellbeing of LGBT youth. No student should face this kind of hostility at school because of who they are or who others perceive them to be.
Today People For the American Way joined with more than eighty other national and state organizations in sending a letter to all members of Congress asking for support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). SNDA, which was reintroduced in the House today by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would prohibit discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.
As the letter notes, the need for this type of legislation is profound:
“A 2011 study of more than 8,500 LGBT middle and high school students across the US found that eight out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and three-fifths said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly three in ten skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. Most tragically, LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools.”
Today a Florida eighth grader named Bayli put a face on these alarming numbers, telling the Huffington Post that her friends regularly face bullying because of their sexual orientation:
“Watching it tear apart my friends is what scared me the most. It's not right, I don't like it, and I don't [like seeing] my friends going through it.”
PFAW has long spoken out on the pervasive problem of bullying, including tracking the work of right wing anti-anti-bullying activists. With the majority of LGBT young people reporting that they do not feel safe in their own schools, the need for action only continues to grow. Discrimination and harassment of LGBT youth has no place in our nation’s classrooms.